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Vanadium in Society

Vanadium is a soft, silver-grey metallic element with an atomic number of 23 and chemical symbol V. It is a ductile transition metal with good structural strength, a natural resistance to corrosion and stability against alkalis, acids and salt water.

Vanadium has many and varied industrial uses and with the advancement of new technologies is playing an ever increasing role in the energy storage industry and supporting sustainable energy into the future.

Historically and currently the main uses for vanadium have been in the steel industry. It is primarily used in metal alloys including rebar and structural steel, high speed tools, titanium alloys and aircraft. Vanadium itself is soft in its pure form, but when it is alloyed with other metals, it hardens and strengthens them dramatically.

Specifically, vanadium is alloyed with iron to make carbon steel, high-strength low-alloy steel, full alloy steel, and tool steel. These hard, strong ferrovanadium alloys are used to make armour plating for military vehicles and to make engine parts that must be very strong, such as piston rods and crank shafts amongst other uses.

In the chemical industry vanadium is used to make synthetic rubber, polyester, fiberglass, sulphuric acid, maleic acid, dyes, ceramics, glass, superconductive magnets and is used in the gas processing industry.

Recently vanadium is an important commodity in the renewable energy spectrum. It is playing a vital role in battery technology particularly in automotive applications for electric and hybrid vehicles and in grid-scale stationary energy storage for both renewable and conventional energy.

It is estimated that the presently known world Resources of vanadium total 63 million tons and Reserves total 13 million tons. There is no single mineral ore from which vanadium is recovered. However, it is found as a trace element in a number of different rock materials and is a by-product of other mining operations. Vanadium is found in magnetite (iron oxide) deposits that are also very rich in the element titanium such is found at the Gabanintha Deposit. It is also found in bauxite (aluminum ore), rocks with high concentrations of phosphorous-containing minerals, and sandstones that have high uranium content. Vanadium is also recovered from carbon-rich deposits such as coal, oil shale, crude oil, and tar sands. For up to date statistics on vanadium resources, reserves and sources please visit the Vanadium site.

There are large drivers to Vanadium demand across the steel making and chemical sectors including;

  • Growth in Vanadium Redox Battery technology (VRB’s)
  • Growth in high strength low alloy steel production (HSLA)

For recent global vanadium production and consumption estimates please visit here.

China is the dominant player in the vanadium industry in terms of ferro-vanadium production and consumption and is currently holding ~ 38% of the world’s Resources and Reserves.

Importantly for the Gabanintha Project in relation to its geographical location in the Asia Region, the majority of vanadium pentoxide produced in China is not suitable for chemical or energy storage applications.

A number of other elements can be substituted for vanadium in the production of high-strength steel. These include niobium, molybdenum, titanium, and tungsten. Other metals can be used in place of vanadium as a chemical catalyst, including platinum and nickel.

About Vanadium and Vanadium Redox Batteries (VRB’s)

The vanadium redox (and redox flow) battery (VRB) is a type of rechargeable flow battery that employs vanadium ions in different oxidation states to store chemical potential energy. The present form (with sulfuric acid electrolytes) was patented by the University of New South Wales in Australia in 1986. The first known successful demonstration and commercial development of the all-vanadium redox flow battery employing vanadium in a solution of sulfuric acid in each half of the battery was credited to Maria Skyllas-Kazacos and co-workers at the University of New South Wales.

There are currently a number of suppliers and developers of these battery systems including UniEnergy Technologies and Ashlawn Energy in the United States, Renewable Energy Dynamics (RED-T) in Ireland, Gildemeister AG (formerly Cellstrom GmbH in Austria) in Germany, Cellennium in Thailand, Prudent Energy in China, Sumitomo in Japan and H2, Inc. in South Korea. The VRB is the product of over 25 years of research, development, testing and evaluation in Australia, Europe, North America and elsewhere.

The vanadium redox battery exploits the ability of vanadium to exist in solution in four different oxidation states, and uses this property to make a battery that has just one electroactive element instead of two.

Two chambers are circulated with electrolytes containing active species of vanadium in different valence states, VO2+/ VO2+ in the positive electrolyte and V2+/V3+ in the negative electrolyte. During the energy discharge process, VO2+ is reduced to VO2+ at the positive electrode and V2+ is oxidised to V3+ at the negative electrode. The reactions proceed in the opposite direction during the energy charge process. The active species are normally dissolved in a strong acid, and the protons transport across the ion-exchange membrane to balance the charge.

The main advantages of the vanadium redox battery are that it can offer almost unlimited capacity simply by using larger and larger storage tanks, it can be left completely discharged for long periods with no ill effects, it can be recharged simply by replacing the electrolyte if no power source is available to charge it, and if the electrolytes are accidentally mixed the battery suffers no permanent damage.

The main disadvantages with vanadium redox technology are a relatively poor energy-to-volume ratio, and the system complexity in comparison with standard storage batteries.

The extremely large capacities possible from vanadium redox batteries make them well suited to use in large power storage applications such as helping to average out the production of highly variable generation sources such as wind or solar power, or to help generators cope with large surges in demand.

The limited self-discharge characteristics of vanadium redox batteries make them useful in applications where the batteries must be stored for long periods of time with little maintenance while maintaining a ready state. This has led to their adoption in some military electronics, such as the sensor components of the GATOR mine system.

Their extremely rapid response times also make them superbly well suited to UPS type applications, where they can be used to replace lead–acid batteries and even diesel generators.

Currently installed vanadium batteries include:

  • A 1.5 MW UPS system in a semiconductor fabrication plant in Japan.
  • A 600 kW, Six hour system, installed by Prudent Energy in Oxnard, California, USA.
  • A 275 kW output balancer in use on a wind power project in the Tomari Wind Hills of Hokkaido.
  • A 200 kW, 800 kW·h (2.9 GJ) output leveler in use at the Huxley Hill Wind Farm on King Island, Tasmania.
  • A 250 kW, 2 MW·h (7.2 GJ) load leveler in use at Castle Valley, Utah.
  • Two 5-kW units installed in St. Petersburg, Florida, under the auspices of USF’s Power Center for Utility Explorations.
  • A 100 kWh (360 MJ) unit supplied with 18 kW stacks manufactured by Cellstrom (Austria) has been installed in Vierakker (Gelderland, The Netherlands) as part of an integrated energy concept called ‘FotonenBoer’/’PhotonFarmer’ (InnovationNetwork/Foundation Courage).
  • A 400 kW, 500 kWh (1.8 GJ) output balancer in use on a solar power project in the Bilacenge Village in Sumba Island, Indonesia.
  • A 50 kW, 100 kWh (360 MJ) peak shaving for manufacturing facility in Gongju, South Korea.
  • A 5 kW unit integrated with photovoltaic generation at University of Évora, Portugal.
  • A 100 kW installation is planned for the island of Gigha, Scotland.

redox_batteries_diagram
redox_batteries

Energy Storage Types Grouped by Technology (Source Electricity Storage Association)

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Variation of Power & Energy Ratings of Different Storage Types and Potential Applications (Source Electricity Storage Association)

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About Vanadium in High Strength Low Alloy Steel (HSLA)

HSLA Steel is micro-alloyed with vanadium to provide enhanced strength-to-weight ratio over standard low C-Mn steels, while meeting or exceeding all requirements for ductility, weldability and toughness. These steels are normally supplied in the as-rolled or as-forged condition, eliminating the need for subsequent heat treatments. Eliminating heat treatment negates the need for higher alloy contents of Cr, Ni and Mo (hence “Low Alloy”), and provides significant energy savings.

Vanadium helps to improve the critical engineering properties of standard low C-Mn steels without greatly increasing the cost. Vanadium, when used as an alloy leads to;

  • Ease of use during the steelmaking process;
  • High recovery of alloy additions;
  • Good castability;
  • High solubility during reheating;
  • Avoidance of high roll forces;
  • Effective and predictable strengthening at all carbon levels;

Properties of vanadium

Natural vanadium is a combination of two isotopes, 50V (0.24 percent) and 51V (99.76 percent). 50V is slightly radioactive, having a half-life of > 3.9 x 1017 years. There are nine other recognized unstable isotopes of vanadium.

Vanadium and its compounds are toxic and so should be handled with care. The maximum allowed concentration of vanadium oxide (V2O5) dust in air is about 0.05 per eight-hour shift in a 40-hour work week.